Sunday, June 28, 2009

D'jemaa el Fna

D'jemaa el Fna (sometimes just Jemaa el Fna) is well covered in all guidebooks, online guides and blogs. Its pictures are all over the web and books - an icon of Marrakech. But really, D'jemaa el Fna is a place to be experienced, and no matter how much you read, how many pictures you see, once you're there, everything that you've read or seen will be completely pushed to the back of your mind, as your senses will be overwhelmed by D'jemaa el Fna.

Being the grand square of Marrakech, it is as much used by the locals as visited by travellers.
During the day, like any market square, stalls fill part of the scene. Orange juice stalls, snake charmers, roaming water "dispensers" in traditional costume and gears; these are but part of the strange mix of things you see in the square. But as afternoon morphs to evening, and night descends, the square slowly transforms. Carts pushed from all corners of the square converge to the centre, as food stalls prepare their gastronomical magic. Musicians and story-tellers appear, gathering circles of followers. Crowds thickened, and when night is complete, so is the transformation.

D'jemaa el Fna is not just sight and sound. It is a concoction of sight, sound and smell. Add the spice of ambience that is Marrakech, and you have a destination that needs experiencing!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Tian Shan (天山)

Tian Shan (天山) (sometimes spelt Tien Shan), or Heavenly Mountains, is a range of mountains that cover a large part of Xinjiang China. It extends all the way to the borders of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, and feature quite abit in Xinjiang tourism. And for good reasons!

With its snow-capped peaks, massive glaciers and rugged beauty, it is no wonder that adventurers, travellers, backpackers love to visit it. It has been the focus of Chinese authors and filmmakers too, who decided that the name and landscape lends itself to glorifying wuxia tales. From valiant swordsmen training in the mountains, to rare herbs hidden in the peaks, the area does provide a stimulus to such imagination.

There is also a Tian Chi (天池), or Heavenly Lake, which lies near Bogda peak, one of the peaks of the TianShan range near Urumqi. Being near the city, it has been marketed by the Chinese tourism authorities, and is now quite touristy. While certainly pretty, the tourist crowds can get quite large, and so, if you do decide to take a look at Tian Chi, I suggest looking beyond the day tours offered by the many agencies in Urumqi city. This holds true for other day tours to the Tian Shan as well, eg. the visits to "No. 1" glacier etc. Arrange for a couple of days of trekking in the Tian Shan region would be perfect. Nevertheless, be it a day or multi-days, these TianShan ranges are sure worth a visit!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Canadian Rockies

I visited the Canadian Rockies many years ago, but it remains one of my most memorable trips. Aside from the absolute beauty of the place, there were a couple of "first" for me, and its these that make trips extra memorable.

The Canadian Rockies cover a large part land, and not just cover Alberta, but parts of British Columbia as well. It covers a number of national parks, the most well-known and/or popular being Banff National Park, and Jasper National Park. The best way to really enjoy all these really, is to have a leisurely drive trip. Not just for photography reasons, as the tour buses just let you stop at certain viewpoints for a short time, and you will not be able to fully experience the true beauty of the park.

There are rugged mountains and pristine lakes. There are ancient glaciers and raging rivers. And within these beautiful landscapes, the wildlife is equally jaw-dropping. All these have to be experienced and appreciated with time, and the best way is to trek/walk around the parks. Day treks are plenty, and if you have the appetite for more, longer treks are possible. The best part is, the park information centres provide excellent resources and info, so it's definitely a must-do for a visit to these rockies.

This was my first trip with an SLR. I used slide film for the first time! First time I stepped onto a glacier. I had my first "seizure" somewhere near some mountaintop. And it was my first time seeing wildlife like bighorn sheep, elks and most wondrously, a black bear! Certainly good reasons to be one of my most memorable trips ever!
But if you are a nature lover, enjoys the outdoors, an animal fan etc, this could easily be your memorable trip as well. Go experience the Canadian Rockies!

Saturday, June 6, 2009


Transylvania often conjures up dark and sinister images, as its name is made famous by Dracula, a novel by Bram Stoker, and countless film depictations.

But see the Transylvanian landscapes in better light (literally!), and you'll be amazed at its beauty. I am fortunate to visit Transylvania during autumn, and the autumn foliage certainly enhances its beauty! If possible, drive through the countryside, and stop to admire, or even have a picnic.
Forget Dracula. Enjoy Transylvania.